By Haley Kinne-Norris, INSPIRE Wellness and Enrichment Coordinator with Liberty Senior Living
Often, individuals may think of aging as scary, or as having a negative connotation. The shear culture of the United States is to “avoid aging.” We can see this on makeup packaging promoting “anti-aging” or “minimizing wrinkles.” We can see this in magazines, movies, TV-shows where instead of embracing aging individuals, we attempt to shut them out, make them invisible. I challenge readers of this article to, instead, embrace their aging, on whatever scope/scale that means for you. Whether you are nearing 23 years of age, 47 years of age, 89 years of age or 109 years of age, you can age gracefully by fully accepting your body, your mind, your health, and your overall self. Aging gracefully may mean something different to each person; however, it is so important to accept yourself where you are. I am a firm believer that you can do whatever you put your mind to, as long as you believe you can accomplish it. We have seen many superstars in sports, too many to name, but they did not get there without the belief in themselves. Let’s visualize the following: a young 13 year old, 3 months before football tryouts at school, they have never played football before at school, just around the neighborhood with friends, but they absolutely love it, they have grown to have a passion for football. In fact, their dream is to play in the NFL one day, on the same turf as some of the greatest football players known. They take the initiative to meet with the coach before summer begins to understand what they might need to do over summer to best prepare for football tryouts. The coach recommends a couple suggestions of exercises, best foods to consume, healthy sleep schedules, etc. This thirteen year old wakes up on the first day of summer. Do they choose to follow the suggestions of the coach to best prepare for tryouts? Do they work hard to take it one step at a time to not overwhelm them self? Maybe try to do it all in one day? Or do they put off preparation until a week before tryouts? What might have the best outcome?
Now, let’s apply this theory to someone who is 92, she grew up playing softball with her friends in the neighborhood, or as some may have called it “can ball,” she lives in a retirement community and is surrounded by lovely friends, is close to her relatives and has a full day of activity programming opportunities. She uses a walker to get around long distances but for the most part is independent; she is a huge softball and baseball fanatic and holds that passion so dear to her. Now, what she may have really enjoyed doing 80 years ago may be different to what she enjoys now, but there are still many ways to support her in her passion of softball/baseball. Maybe the activity director plans to take residents to a softball game, maybe it’s a talking point during initial assessment or intake to get to know her a bit better, maybe it’s an adapted game where she plays softball with other residents, or maybe she gets to throw the First Pitch for a local softball league. The important piece here is that she has the tenacity to play softball at 92 years of age, she chooses to take one day at a time, maintaining or working her endurance up, exercising multiple times a week with exercises that challenge her but not overwhelm her. She’s taking one day at a time, one step at a time, she’s choosing to “prepare for tryouts” just like the 13 year old. She’s taking recommendations from healthcare providers and staff at her retirement community on what would best help her succeed in her goals, passions and dreams. She ends up playing on the state senior league of softball, at 92 years of age. That’s how someone ages gracefully, its not erasing the wrinkles or hiding the scars of surgeries, it’s embracing where they are, what they can do, and having a support system who backs you on whatever you pursue. Whether it be acknowledging that you are more at risk for falling, need support for mental health, or receive concerning bloodwork levels, taking the time to address concerns noted with your primary care physician and acting on how you can improve, is so important. Taking the time to go to balance classes, reaching out to a mental health provider, discussing options with your primary care physician, is so important.
Not everyone enjoys sports, maybe its painting or crocheting or puzzles or fishing. But aging gracefully means finding that one passion or several passions and finding ways to add them into your daily life, adapting as necessary but still pursuing the passions. Aging gracefully is accepting yourself for where you are, challenging yourself and having that tenacity to keep doing and pursing your passions.